The best type of horror film is the one that blurs the line between reality and fiction. Horror films grounded in reality strike us harder than the supernatural type because we could believe it could happen to us more than our six year old getting possessed by the Devil. With radioactive mutants being a topic for the horror genre since the beginning of the nuclear age its surprising therefore that it took over 25 years for a movie to be made about Chernobyl; an actual nuclear disaster. Several movies and TV shows have touched upon it such as The X-Files and the 1998 Godzilla movie but nothing has tackled the idea directly. I would say that the deaths of hundreds in a relatively recent tragedy was the reason nobody wanted to touch it but then again we had movies about 9/11 in 2003!
Whatever the reason why it took so long, Chernobyl Diaries took a shot at it. It’s no secret that the critics have absolutely panned this movie and indeed it has few genuine fans but I am going to try to be as objective as possible in my review. In case you don’t know the plot of the movie goes that a group of friends decide to visit Pripyat, the abandoned city where the workers of the Chernobyl power station used to live. When the reactor melted down the entire city was abandoned and remains so to this day. The group hire the somewhat amateurish tour guide Yury who after being refused entry at the guard station finds his own way in for them. With no one knowing they are there the vehicle they are travelling in gets sabotaged and over the next two days they are attacked by wild dogs and radioactive human mutants.
Here is what I liked; Most horror films go for a sense of claustrophobia to achieve a level of fear but Chernobyl Diaries’ setting of a real abandoned city achieves the opposite. You get the feeling these guys are genuinely trapped in the middle of a radioactive nowhere. I also liked the blink-and-you-missed-it-moments such as the odd radioactive freak running across the road in the distance. With no music to alert the audience it is genuinely surprising but not entirely scary. The build up to the action is slow but doesn’t feel like it drags, it’s steady enough to keep you interested. The acting isn’t bad either which is always a relief. These types of films tend to have porn star acting without the porn.
Now here is what I didn’t like; the ending was bloody terrible! We got lots of hints that there was a much bigger story unfolding such as the bus where the Ukrainian guards had obviously been in a fight with these people/mutants. There was a sense that what we were watching was leading to something such as a government conspiracy but there was almost none of that. What a waste of an opportunity. We never got to see ‘them’ properly either and while in some horror movies less is more, in this case I think we really needed a proper reveal of these things. Also while the acting was pretty good I didn’t really care about the characters. None of them warmed me up to invest in whether they survived or not. I just viewed this whole group as ‘victims’ and that was it.
In short this was a wasted opportunity. It had so much to offer and I was genuinely interested in seeing it through to that God awful end. I swear up until the end I had high hopes this was going to pull something special out of its hat but it never happened. I would say that if a sequel was made with an effort in story rather than frights then I would be willing to give that a chance. I wouldn’t recommend this though unless you had nothing else to watch.